Champagne and Sparkling Wines

Champagne and Sparkling Wines

Putting the bubbles into wine can be done in several ways but only sparkling wines made in a certain region of northern France can be called Champagne.

The best way to produce sparkling wine is the 'Methode Traditionelle', practiced in Champagne and elsewhere. Base wines high in acidity and fermented to dryness are bottled and a small amount of sugar and yeast is then introduced to create a second fermentation. It is the second fermentation which creates carbon dioxide and thus the bubbles which give the wine its sparkle. As the carbon dioxide is unable to escape into the air it dissolves into the wine.

The sediment, or less, left behind by the spent yeast stays in contact with the wine until dégorgement, and imparts biscuity flavors and complexity.


'Dégorgement' is the removal of the lees, in order to render the wine clear and bright. A process known as 'rémuge', which involves the twisting and turning of the bottles, slowly shifts the lees to the neck of the bottle. The necks of the bottles are then passed through a solution of freezing brine in order to freeze the first inch or so of wine now containing the lees. when the cap is removed, the pressure in the bottle forces out the ice pellet. 

To finish, the wine lost during 'dégorgement' is replaced by a mixture of wine and cane sugar, called the 'dosage' or 'Liqueur d'Expedition'. The amount of sugar added has a bearing on the small amount of sugar is added for the dryish style of Brut while more is added for the quite sweet and sticky rich.

A cheaper form of secondary fermentation can take place in closed tanks. Known as 'Cuve close', the wine is bottled under pressure so that it retains carbon dioxide. This method is generally reserved for less expensive fizz.

Particular grape varieties are sought the world over. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir both have the attributes required to make great champagnes and sparkling wines. Although the best champagne may be a first choice for many as a 'desert island' bottle, there are plenty of fine sparkling wines around.

Areas of England with chalky soil, combined with the country's cool climate, make it capable of producing top-quality sparkling wine. Fruity and expressive sparklers come from riper fruit in countries such as Australia, USA, New Zealand and South Africa, while the favored choice from Spain is Cava, a lighter sparkling wine made from indigenous grape varieties.

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